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NEED TO KNOW

WORLD

Rights in Context

Seven years ago, Rosaura Almonte Hernández faced a Catch-22.

The 16-year-old, known as “Esperancita,” or “Little Hope,” in Spanish, suffered from leukemia and needed chemotherapy. But doctors in her native Dominican Republic refused to treat her because she was seven weeks pregnant. Abortion is illegal under all circumstances in the Caribbean country. Under international pressure, the doctors eventually relented. But it was too late to save her.

Described in a Human Rights Watch report, the teen’s death is emblematic of the stakes of debates over reproductive rights around the world.

As Americans prepare for a divided Congress and a conservative majority on the Supreme Court this year, a review of those debates might put the issue in perspective.

On December 20, Ireland legalized abortion up to the twelfth week of pregnancy after a referendum last year overturned a 35-year ban in the largely Catholic country, the BBC reported.

Brazil’s supreme court is also considering decriminalizing abortion through the same period. But if the court decides on the abortion-rights side, President Jair Bolsonaro has vowed to fight back.

“As far as I am concerned, proposals to liberate abortion in Brazil will have my veto and Brazilian money will not fund NGOs that promote this practice,” Bolsonaro tweeted in October, according to Bustle.

In Poland, too, conservative politicians maintain their goal of tightening the country’s already strict abortion laws. But huge protests forced them to put aside their proposal. In the meantime, they’ve sought to demean women’s rights activists.

“While the traditional roles of women in the family are being actively promoted through laws and policies, advocates for gender equality are increasingly being characterized as ‘anti-family,’” said the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice after a recent visit to Poland, wrote Agence France-Presse.

Abortion-rights campaigners may also sometimes go too far.

In late 2017, Canadian officials required businesses and nonprofit groups that sought grants to subsidize summer jobs to pledge that they respected women’s rights, including “sexual and reproductive rights and the right to access safe and legal abortions.”

Faith-based groups challenged the measure as an infringement of freedom of expression and religious freedom, and the government blinked. For 2019, reported Religion News Service, applicants need only to promise that they won’t use the public funds to lobby to restrict access to abortion or discriminate on the basis of gender – a distinction many of the faithful could accept.

As the New Year begins, Americans confused by new conflicts over abortion rights should know they are not alone.

WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

Unhappy New Year

Russian authorities detained American Paul Whelan on suspicion of spying and opened a criminal case against him as 2018 came to a close, heralding fraught relations ahead despite an optimistic New Year’s message from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia’s FSB state security service said Monday it had detained Whelan on Friday, without providing details regarding his alleged espionage activities, Reuters reported. Under Russian law, espionage can carry between 10 and 20 years in prison.

While Putin has recently lauded President Donald Trump’s decision to remove US troops from Syria and proposed talks on wider cooperation, Moscow and Washington remain at loggerheads on many issues since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Whelan’s detention also follows a similar case in the US, where days earlier Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring with a senior Russian official to infiltrate US conservative groups, the Washington Post reported.

Putin has denied official involvement in Butina’s activities and the Russian foreign ministry has cast her as a political prisoner, the paper noted. Speculation that Whelan is a Michigan resident formerly employed by the staffing company Kelly Services hasn’t been confirmed.

IRAQ

Join the Party

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has granted Iraq the right to launch operations against the Islamic State within the borders of Syria without first informing Damascus – and Iraqi jets hit an alleged IS meeting house almost immediately.

Reported by the Syrian state news agency, the green light signals warming relations between the two countries, which are both allied with Iran, Reuters reported. Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi also hinted on Sunday that Baghdad might take a broader role in Syria, following the announcement of the US withdrawal. For his part, President Donald Trump has said that US troops will remain in Iraq and could hit targets in Syria from there if needed.

The Iraqi military said F-16s struck a two-story house Monday in Souseh, close to the border, that was being used as a meeting place for IS leaders, according to the Associated Press.

US News & World Report said the ground situation is “shifting radically” in Syria, with US allies like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia now also drifting toward supporting Assad.

JAPAN

Driving Under the Influence

Drunk driving is the scourge of New Year’s Eve. But a driver who plowed into crowds celebrating the beginning of 2019 in Tokyo was under the influence of something more like madness.

After steering his car into the crowd and injuring nine people, one seriously, in the Japanese capital’s Takeshita Street in the shopping and tourist district of Harajuku, 21-year-old Kazuhiro Kusakabe initially told police that he had conducted a terrorist act, CNN reported. But he later said he drove into the crowd to protest his opposition to the death penalty.

The Japan Times reported that investigative sources said Kusakabe told police he’d acted “in retaliation for an execution” and it wasn’t clear yet whether he meant a specific instance or capital punishment in general.

British police were also investigating a multiple stabbing at a Manchester railway station New Year’s Eve as a possible terrorist incident, saying the suspect reportedly shouted Islamic slogans during the attack but there is yet no suggestion of “any wider threat,” according to the National.

DISCOVERIES

Fleeting Beauty

Saturn’s beauty and uniqueness will disappear someday, according to a recent study.

Two NASA probes – Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 – have confirmed that the planet is slowly losing its rings, Quartz reported.

The space agency said in a statement that the loss is happening at a “worst-case scenario” rate.

“The rings are being pulled into Saturn by gravity as a dusty rain of ice particles under the influence of Saturn’s magnetic field,” the agency said in a news release.

But fret not. It will take around 300 million years for the rings to disappear. Still, that’s just a fraction of the planet’s age, believed to be 4 billion years old.

“We are lucky to be around to see Saturn’s ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime,” said James O’Donoghue of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

O’Donoghue and his team hope to find answers on Saturn’s history and its rings, which are mostly chunks of ice and estimated to be about 100 million years old.

“If rings are temporary,” he said, “perhaps we just missed out on seeing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune, which have only thin ringlets today.”